Every family has its traditions, and for my family, all of our traditions are centered around food. Birthdays, holidays, and get togethers in the Gold family always mean one thing: good food. And this love of food did not pass me. In high school my buddies and I had a mission to eat at every Korean bbq restaurant in LA, and by the end of it, we probably ate our own body weight in bulgogi.
So how did a carnivorous foodie like me, all of the sudden give up meat and become a vegetarian for the past two years?
Well if there is anything I love more than food, it’s the ocean. Scuba diving, surfing, studying marine biology; my whole life is centered around the oceans. So when I discovered that my late night Inn n out runs were leading to the loss of coral reefs, creation of dead zones in all the world oceans, and threatening public health and fisheries around the world, I found myself in the midst of a midlife crisis at the age of 18.
So like any teenager with a smart phone, the first thing I did was google it. And the numbers didn’t lie. I found out that it takes 1800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, while apples only take 80. That’s thousands of gallons that had to be diverted from rivers and estuaries that fish like salmon and steelhead need to spawn. And in a drought year like this where every drop counts, how can these fish and the people that depend on them afford to lose this water?
And worse, I learned that our over-use of fertilizers to feed our livestock have lead to massive amounts of nutrients entering into our rivers and oceans. These nutrients fuel enormous algae blooms that eventually decompose, sucking all the oxygen out the water, creating dead zones where there is so little oxygen fish can’t breathe. And this isn’t an isolated event. There are over 400 permanent dead zones around the world because of nutrient runoff from poor agricultural practices and farming animals. The Largest dead zone in the US is at the mouth of the Mississippi River, which causes over $10 billion dollars in damages to fisheries and tourism a year.
By this point I was regretting the sausage pizza I had just eaten before reading all of this. But it didn’t stop there. I found out that beef has 13 times higher carbon emissions per pound than vegetables do, let alone the fact that meat production is the world’s leading methane emitter, a green house gas 21 times more potent than CO2. I had no idea that my eating habits were directly supporting the largest green house gas emitting industry in the world, more than all of the worlds transportation emissions combined. To say the least, I was shocked to find out that every meal I ate was increasing global temperatures, acidifying the ocean, and raising sea levels.
I had no idea that I was threatening the very existence of coral reefs. An ecosystem that serves as a nursery for a quarter of all fish species, an ecosystem that generates tens of billions of dollars in tourism revenues, and an ecosystem that provides a billion people their only source of protein.
To me the choice was simple. How I ate, breakfast, lunch and dinner, was polluting the places I love most in the world, and I could not let that happen. Fortunately for the planet and for me, this is a problem that I can actually do something about, three times a day. I can trade a burger for tofu curry, or tacos for a Greek salad, while better protecting public health and ocean ecosystems. And I didn’t even have to sacrifice that much, I can still eat Sprinkles cupcakes.
To me it’s a no brainer that we need to fix the way eat so that we can live in a sustainable world that protects the oceans and all of us who depend on it for food, fun, and the air we breath. I’m not asking you to stop eating meat, though your doctor and planet would greatly appreciate it, but I am asking you to think about your food choices and to spread the word so that we can start to make the world a better place, one meal at a time. That’s what I did, and now 20 of my friends are vegetarian because of it. Today my family doesn’t eat beef or pork. And our family reunions have as great of food as ever while protecting the oceans and the places we love.